Charles L. Wildman,
Interim Conference Minister
Pastoral Letter Index
October 18, 2004
To: Ministers and Moderators of the Connecticut Conference
From: Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree, Conference Minister
Grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus Christ, our living Savior and the One who unites us as His people.
Our 137th Annual Meeting in Suffield has come to a close. It was full of remarkable, powerful, and tender moments. The pace was set by our Moderator, the Rev. David Spollett, as he reminded us continually that every person who was there loves God, is committed to Jesus Christ, and is dedicated to the United Church of Christ. Our Conference co-preachers, the Revs. Josh and Bette Anne Crowell, led us in remembering who we are through worship and song, with the special gifts of the First Church in Suffield and Faith Congregational (Hartford) choirs. At several points on Friday night, the lights in the auditorium failed completely, and the only illumination was the candles on the table of bounty at the center of the stage. Not a soul stirred. No one panicked. Indeed, our worship deepened.
Our keynoter, the Rev. Dr. Park Jong-wha challenged us with a vision of a peaceful unification of the Koreas and with a hope for U.S. Christians to join their Korean Christian brothers and sisters in working for that goal. Over 300 people came out Friday afternoon for workshops. Delegates saw the two ads that will run nationwide during Advent through The Stillspeaking Initiative and loved them. A 30-minute video showcasing the work of the Conference received accolades from the delegates and will shortly be available to every church at their overwhelming request. And the ordinary business of budget and Bylaws and elections transpired smoothly. We are thankful to Hartford Association, the Suffield churches, and the planning committee for all their work.
I know that for many of you the focus for this meeting was on the resolution deferred from last year. The delegates and pastors adopted the enclosed two resolutions (preliminary copies), both of which call for ongoing study and dialogue among us. As you will see, the deferred resolution was amended significantly before being adopted.
Some media reports have made it sound as though we in Conference leadership do not care whether churches depart from the UCC as a result of this resolution. That is simply not true. We do care immensely about our covenant and our unity. We hope you will remember that the media are given to taking snippets of sentences and inserting them wherever they please in an article.
I write to encourage you to seize this moment to continue or open conversation within your church about the substance of these resolutions. One pastor wrote to me last week before the meeting, “Sunday I preached on the topic and we had a seminar run by our delegates and we both received very positive feedback. (Frankly I was surprised a bit by the level of gratitude shown by most of the parishioners).” I have heard similar comments from many. Please do not be discouraged by the fear of conflict; you may find that your members are eager for a chance to talk about same-gender marriage as a civil right, and to begin to explore the Biblical and theological understandings from different vantage points. Many of them have family members affected by this issue and do not know how or where to talk it through. This can be a profoundly pastoral moment for your ministry.
As our Meeting concluded with a worship service inspired by the Taizé community, woven deeply with silence, candlelight and singing, I served Holy Communion. On this occasion, as I broke the many different loaves of bread and held them before the gathered community, I think we were all reminded both of the brokenness of Christ’s body, and also the healing act of sharing this sacred common meal.
We have before us both brokenness and healing:
The hurt of those who would have desired that the delegates never vote on the issue of same gender marriage;
The healing of those for whom this resolution by their Conference offers a sign of hope and reconciliation with Christ and the Church;
The brokenness of relationship among us because of deeply held Biblical and spiritual beliefs from many perspectives on the matter;
The healing sense of the movement of God’s Holy Spirit as some who came determined to vote one way found themselves opened to new insights.
We have work to do together, because while some find deep joy, others grieve; while some condemn and threaten schism, others see a high moment of evangelism for the Gospel.
Over the next few weeks and months, we (all of us) will want to design some ways of highlighting our common faith in Jesus Christ, our vision of the call of the Still Speaking God to our churches, and our way of being the Church together. I want to be so bold as to suggest that you consider using my address to this meeting as a study document with your church sometime in the next four months. Find it at http://www.ctucc.org/news/AnnlMtg04/dfcaddress2004.html
We are constantly relearning certain truths. At this meeting several of us encountered people who did not know that resolutions come to the meetings of the Conference largely from local churches. Nor did they know that our Conference staff consider it a conflict of interest to attempt to affect the outcome of any part of the resolution process – because as staff we must implement whatever it is you vote. We trust the Holy Spirit to guide the delegates and authorized ministers genuinely to seek the mind of Christ through study, prayer and discernment. We encourage you to teach among your members about this cardinal principle of historic Congregationalism and of the current United Church of Christ. We have a document on our web site called “Serving as a Delegate in the United Church of Christ” that might be helpful to you.
Last year’s Annual Meeting voted to increase the per capita request from local churches to $4 per member. Many churches did, and others deferred that until their 2005 budget year. We hope that you are including the full amount for this next budget year as we are counting on that level of support to enable us to move to five Regional Ministers from three. (We are cutting other positions and doing everything we can to limit our expenditures as well.)
Over 130 churches in our Conference have signed on to be part of the Stillspeaking Initiative. With over 50% of our churches ready to participate, that makes us third in the nation. Our new Moderator, Jay Krusell, layperson from First Church in Newington, challenged us to be the Conference with the most churches opting in. Go to http://www.ucc.org/stillspeaking/optin.php if your church is not a partner church in this important Initiative – it’s not too late!
We learned at the Annual Meeting that the father of Rev. Stuart Charter, pastor at West Suffield and one of our hosts for the meeting, died on Friday, and so we hold him and his family in prayer. Also, Jim Rodgers, creative and energetic minister of music at First Church in Suffield, who was to have led all the music at the Meeting, was hospitalized midweek, and so we hold him and the members of First Church in prayer. And Rev. Teresa Hughes, pastor at Stanley Memorial in New Britain, who was hospitalized recently.
On Sunday, October 24th , we will gather at Silver Lake at 3:00 p.m. to dedicate the new Health and Welcome Center and the new cabins in cabin circle. Somehow in my last letter, I managed to leave the Congregational Church of Naugatuck out of my thank you list for those who built cabins! It was pure oversight, especially since I had spent a Lenten evening with them telling them stories of people they might select to name their double cabin after. Cabins will be named after Phillis Wheatley, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Lemuel Haynes, Joseph Bellamy, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Augustus Field Beard and “Future Leaders” at this dedication. See you there, I hope!